Reflection: Valerie Sayers

Seamus was as dazzling a performer as he was a scholar. To watch him deliver a lecture was to witness a high-wire act. Sometimes as he was being introduced, he sat in the front row and methodically chewed off each of his fingernails. But once he ascended the stage, he never betrayed a sign of nervousness: he delivered entire complex essays without a text or a note; his wry, sure delivery and his wit held an audience rapt.

He could be just as dazzling at the dinner table. Because we both arrived at Notre Dame in 1993, Seamus and I often collaborated over a meal in our efforts to solve the mysterious ways of the university. He was a generous friend, often bringing some scandalously expensive bottle to our house. It pleased him, I think, that I'd read and admired his poetry, but it probably pleased him more that I never inquired about his novel-in-progress, because he was then being  constantly bombarded with questions about when it would finally be published. When it came out three years later, it was clearly a work that would last. He read the funny schoolroom passage to my students at Kylemore Abbey in 2017, the novel and Seamus's performative skill undiminished, his warmth still golden.

It is a solace to have the poetry, the novel, the pellucid criticism, all the art that survives Seamus.  I can't quite believe I won't hear him deliver it again, but I hear his voice yet.

Valerie Sayers is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of English Emeritus at the University of Notre Dame. Her The Age of Infidelity and Other Stories was published in 2020.